Why the USA will always suffer most from every epidemic that comes around
US citizens are told from infancy that they live in “the greatest country in the world.” It’s the same sort of propaganda that citizens of the Soviet Union were fed for decades. Every country likes to airbrush the unpleasant parts of its history, create a rousing national narrative, and puff itself up a bit. But the USA is the only OECD nation to indulge in the kinds of nonsense typically seen in tyrannies. As a result, US citizens are profoundly ignorant of the fact that the USA is, in reality, a rather backward nation in most areas of life.
A quick summary will suffice to demonstrate the fact: the USA scores a D for the state of its public infrastructure (roads, bridges, drains, electricity supply); the USA appears far down the PISA table for educational achievement; the USA has the world’s most expensive health care system yet among the worst outcomes; the USA suffers more gun violence than most war zones; more people are financially insecure than in any other OECD nation; and the USA has the highest number of homeless people per capita in the Western world.
So much for “the greatest nation on Earth.”
The Soviet Union stumbled along for decades during which rhetoric and reality were so badly matched that citizens became thoroughly disillusioned. Black humor rose to the surface as a way of coping the privations of everyday life. There were jokes about learning to live with a single shoe, or passing three sheets of toilet paper around to serve the entire family. I’ve spoken to people whose families depended for their survival on the contents of the slops bucket from the local factory canteen. When the Soviet Union collapsed, few except the very old mourned its passing, because its failures were self-evident.
Today the USA is lurching and stumbling towards a similar collapse. The difference is that in the USA material goods are in abundance; what’s lacking is social wealth. And the current panic over the coronavirus is likely to expose this dramatically.
Here’s why: in Europe, as governments and organizations attempt to sooth media-driven hysteria by imposing quarantines and work-from-home policies, no one fears for their job or their livelihood. I’m in Belgium at present, consulting to a large pharmaceuticals company. The offices are only one-third full as people have been instructed to work from home. None of the employees are afraid that they’ll be “rightsized” because they’re not displaying true Desk Warrior spirit.
But in the USA things are very, very different. A lot of people are on zero-hour contracts with no job security. A lot of people are in the gig economy. There’s no real safety net for these tens of millions of people. A day lost is a day’s income foregone, which could mean losing the roof over one’s head or shortage of sustenance.
In the USA, forty million people are a single paycheck away from living on the streets. Even middle-class people know that failing to show up at the office can ultimately mean taking a hit down the road. Being a true Desk Warrior is so deeply ingrained in US culture that absence is often regarded as tantamount to dereliction of duty.
So guess what’s going to happen in the USA? People will continue coming into work, continue doing their jobs delivering pizzas or walking the dogs or any one of a thousand-and-one things including restocking shelves at Walmart and Safeway, because they can’t afford to do otherwise. This means that contagion will spread rapidly.
Which means more people will contract the virus.
As 86% of US citizens are fat and indolent, most people’s immune systems are already compromised. This means the proportion of vulnerable citizens in the USA is far higher than in Europe and Asia, which means the mortality rate will inevitably be far higher. Compound this with the fact twenty-eight million US citizens have no access to even rudimentary health care, and the consequences are obvious.
It is astonishing that a still-wealthy nation thinks this is an acceptable state of affairs. It’s more akin to various dysfunctional African nations than to any comparably developed economy.
Of course, most people will continue sitting on their sofas eating McSlop and staring at Netflix. Few will put two and two together and realize the dire state of the USA means that a comparatively high mortality rate is inevitable. Fewer still will begin to wonder whether “the greatest country on Earth” ought to be a little less concerned with engineering more and more tax breaks for the ultra-rich and a little more concerned about the plight of three hundred and thirty million ordinary people.
The USA will waddle forward into the future regardless of the toll the coronavirus imposes. After all, every year more than fifty-six thousand US citizens die of the flue and tens of thousands more die because they can’t afford basic medical treatment. No one cares, and so nothing changes.
No doubt as the USA finally collapses into incoherence some decades from now, US citizens who haven’t yet died from preventable disease, been killed by gunshot wounds, or have expired because they couldn’t afford even the shortest visit to a doctor, will still fondly imagine they live in “the greatest nation on Earth.”